By Ehsan Mehrabi
May 3, 2019
Ali Fazli is one of the most popular commanders within the Revolutionary Guards, specializing as he does in suppressing civic unrest and urban riots from Qazvin to Tehran. He claims to be the first person to have employed the term “provocateurs” against protesters in Qazvin in 1994.
Ali Fazli’s family moved to Tehran from Tuyserkan in Hamadan province when he was seven. Prior to the 1979 revolution, he worked in carpentry. He was introduced to the ideology of Ruhollah Khomeini at the age of 16 while attending the Grand Mosque of Narmak. According to him, the imam Mulla Noori had a significant role in shaping his character.
After the fall of the Shah, Fazli joined the Revolution Committee and shortly after, became a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). On May 18, 1979, he was deployed to an IRGC military base for training, a 15-day course that provided instructions on using firearms and basic military tactics.
His first deployment was to Khorramshahr, where Iranian forces were tasked with suppressing Iranian Arab militia in the region. He remained stationed there for four months until he left for Gachsaran to establish an IRGC unit. Following unrest in Kurdistan, the IRGC commander was sent to suppress the rebels. During this time, he became the commander of the IRGC Nomad Unit as well as of the IRGC corps of Abadan, Kohgiluyeh, and Boyer-Ahmad.
The Beginning of the Iran-Iraq War
Before the start of the war with Iraq, Fazli was stationed in the city of Sumar in Kermanshah province, which was captured by Iraqi forces almost immediately after the start of hostilities. He fled to the south, where Hassan Bagheri was the deputy commander of the base and Davood Karimi the commander of the IRGC in Khuzestan. According to Fazli, Abolhasan Banisadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, delivered a speech to the IRGC officers in the middle of the combat zone, during which he said: “Why are you here in the battlefield when you don’t have enough military training?” The officers were so offended that they tried to attack Banisadr and push him down the stairs, but his bodyguards ensured he was safely removed from the building.
In 1981, Fazli was tasked with establishing Mohammad Rasul-Allah Cautionary Battalion, but since this new unit could not field enough soldiers, it was combined with the Ashura Battalion under the command of Mohammad Ali Jafari. Fazli then served as Jafari’s deputy at the battalion. Later, he was tasked again with establishing another battalion, Al-Mahdi 33rd Battalion, which played an important role in the Beit-al-Moghadas Operation and the liberation of Khorramshahr.
In 1984, he became the commander of the Seyed-al-Shuhada 10th Corps, which operated out of Tehran province. According to Mohsen Rezaei and other IRGC commanders, Fazli volunteered to participate in every operation. In the Valfajr 8 Operation (Operation Dawn 8), he suffered serious injuries to his foot and back and also lost an eye. This was in addition to previous injuries he had sustained earlier in combat.
After the War
After the war, he remained as commander of the Seyed-al-Shuhada 10th Corps. In 1994 one of his battalions suppressed the protests in Qazvin after unrest had erupted over the parliament’s decision not to recognize the region as a separate province (the province would later be granted recognition). Journalist Saeed Hajjarian reported at the time that Fazli’s soldiers suppressed the civil unrest with rocket-propelled grenades and Katyusha rocket launchers.
Fazli was the commander of Seyed-al-Shuhada 10th Corps until 1997. During the 1999 protests at a dormitory at Tehran University, he was the Deputy Commander of Sar-Allah Command Center. When the student protests became more intense, the IRGC intervened and implemented a violent crackdown. Fazli had famously been among those IRGC commanders who signed their names on a letter harshly criticizing President Mohammad Khatami for his seeming lack of resolve in dealing with the crisis.
In 2009, Fazli played an important role in suppressing the Green Movement as the commander of the IRGC in Tehran. He also threatened Ayatollah Saanei, a critic of the regime’s violent suppression who planned to hold a sit-in at Khomeini’s memorial. By his own admission, Fazli’s warning to the cleric was menacing. “I sent him a message in Qom, advising him to change his mind and not come to the memorial. I said, ‘If you don’t listen and come, I have no other option but to order my IRGC sisters to get you out of the building, because I don’t think you can handle our IRGC brothers.’” His message was received and Ayatollah Saanei never left his residence.
“Ali Fazli was a glorious name during the war among the soldiers. He was always a humble man. But after 2009, his hands are bloody from killing innocent people,” wrote Mohammad Nourizad, a filmmaker who once advocated for the regime and the Supreme Leader but who had a change of heart after the 2009 crackdown on peaceful protests and sided with the citizens.
In late 2009, Fazli was appointed as the deputy commander of the Basij organization and Mohammad Reza Naqdi as its commander. This was in spite of the fact that Naqdi had nowhere near as much experience or achievements in the IRGC as Fazli did. In May 2018, Fazli was appointed by the order of the IRGC Chief Commander as the dean commander of Imam Hussein University, a “promotion” that could be interpreted as a setback for the high-ranking commander.
Fazli often has different opinions about political events and figures from that of other IRGC commanders. For example, after the parliament impeached President Hassan Rouhani’s Science Minister, Reza Faraji-Dana, Fazli said he had great respect for him because he had been his commander during the Beit-al-Moghadas Operation. He also thanked Faraji-Dana for his involvement with Rahian-e Noor caravan tours, which take students and others to various important battle sites from the Iran-Iraq war.
Fazli also had a unique explanation for the arrest of the IRGC Commander of the Mohammad Rasulullah 27th Corps, Mohammad Kosari. The official IRGC story was that in 1989, Kosari was arrested suddenly one night after he failed to return land that belonged to the Agricultural Jihad Ministry, which the IRGC was using as a military base. Kosari himself believed that Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was behind his arrest. Subsequently, Khamenei ordered his release. Fazli claimed Rafsanjani was angry when he found out about Kosari’s arrest and called the Chief Justice of the Military Court, Ali Razini, who then apologized to him for the incident.